On the day Barack Obama was first elected president in November 2008, a small group of American civilians took their idealism and experience to Afghanistan. They were part of the Pentagon’s most daring attempt since Vietnam to bring social science and cultural knowledge to the battlefield, a program called the Human Terrain System that is driven by the notion that you can’t win a war if you don’t understand the dense web of tribal, economic, and political relationships that binds insurgents to local people in much of the world. The field team in Afghanistan that November day included a Wellesley grad with an anthropology degree and years of experience as a soldier and development worker, a former bodyguard for
Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and an ex-military intelligence sergeant who had returned to Afghanistan to make peace with his troubled past. What happened next illustrates with brutal clarity how swiftly a well-intentioned wartime eff ort can turn into its violent opposite. Gezari will read from her forthcoming book, The Tender Soldier, and talk about turning disparate battlefield material into fluent narrative.